Legal action, threats of vigilantism loom in battle against new Waterton visitor centre – Calgary

Parks Canada says it will not re-visit a controversial decision regarding a new $7.6 million visitor centre in the Waterton Lakes National Park townsite, while cottage and business owners say they will continue to fight within and possibly outside the law to stop Parks Canada from “ruining” their tiny village.

Opponents of the project are concerned about congestion, traffic and parking in the townsite 260 kilometres south of Calgary. They want the new visitor centre built on the outskirts of town, but Parks Canada has already rejected that option.

Dave Cruickshank says he owns “half of main street” — a restaurant, a book store, three gift shops and a jewelry store — and that Parks Canada has been operating like a dictatorship on this development.

Despite the fact he, like all residents and business owners, leases his land from the federal agency, Cruickshank says he’s not afraid to speak out to try to stop the government from destroying the town. 

“They’ve already ruined Banff, it’s a horror show. They’re well on their way to ruining Jasper and now they’re picking on Waterton park,” said Cruickshank, 75.

Dave Cruickshank, 75, accuses Parks Canada of running a dictatorship over its decision to locate a new visitor centre in the Waterton townsite. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

He’s so angry he’s threatening vigilante action. 

“Vigilantism is generally breaking the law, I don’t want to see this town ruined and I think that’s the greater good,” he said inside the dining room at one of his businesses.

It’s hard to tell if he’s serious, but there’s no questioning his love for a community where he’s spent the past 50 years running his various enterprises.  

Leased land

Cruickshank says the overwhelming majority of leaseholders and business owners in Waterton are against building the visitor centre inside the townsite, but that some residents are afraid to speak out because their leases with Parks Canada are coming up for renewal. 

There’s only a few dozen people who are year-round residents in the town — many of whom are Parks Canada employees — but there are approximately 160 cottages in Waterton that are privately owned.

There’s also a handful of business owners who own and operate the town’s hotels, motels, restaurants and shops. 

They’ve all signed land leases with Parks Canada for the privilege of owning a summer cottage or running a business in one of Alberta’s five national parks.  

Parks Canada plans to replace this nearly 60 year old visitor centre with a new facility within the townsite. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The Waterton Lake Leaseholders Association claims an informal survey it did in August 2015 showed 94 per cent opposition to the townsite plan. 

And while the current visitor centre is located outside the townsite, Parks Canada says it’s old and too small.  

It was built in 1958 and is just 56 square metres (600 square feet) — not nearly big enough to accommodate the…

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